Correction/Retraction: DOJ Asset Forfeiture Program Announcement Contains No Real Reforms

Last week, we published an article concerning Eric Holder's announcement that the Department of Justice would be ending their controversial Equitable Sharing program, which enabled state and local police to circumvent state regulations limiting their use of money taken from citizens without a trial. The story was broken by the Washington Post, whose coverage quickly went national and formed the basis for coverage from other media outlets.

Since the release of the story it has come to light that the Washington Post's story contained significant factual errors regarding the nature of Holder's changes to the Equitable Sharing program. While as of the time of this writing the Washington Post has refused to print a retraction or correction of their story, the Puppycide Database Project feels such an omission is an irresponsible disservice to our readers.

Which brings us to the exact nature of the changes and how they conflict with media coverage of those changes (Holder's new orders concerning Equitable Sharing are now available in total on our website, and can be downloaded by clicking this link). The Washington Post described the new orders as effectively ending the Equitable Sharing program:

"Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges."

[the new policy will] "eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the [equitable sharing] program."

In reality, Holder's new orders will only prevent a small percentage of total assets seized through the Equitable Sharing program, using a policy called "adoption". The adoption process allowed states and local police to seize assets on their own, and then request that the seizure be "adopted" by a Federal law enforcement agency, allowing the local or state police to keep up to 80% of the assets taken. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office reported that such adoptions made up only 17% of the assets seized under Equitable Sharing.

Local and State police will continue to be able to seize assets in direct contradiction of the asset forfeiture laws instituted beneath the Federal level to prevent such behavior. The only difference will be that police will have to request a Federal sign off on taking the assets they want before they take them, instead of after. While this might present moderate practical difficulties for police, the attractiveness of being able to create their own "slush fund" of stolen assets will mean that police will continue asset forfeiture policies. In light of these revelations concerning the new policy, few of us covering this issue at PuppycideDB would be surprised if the total amount of money seized continues to increase after these "reforms".